Friday, October 30, 2009



Take my advice: If anyone ever offers you a shoulder and declares, "Hit me!" - don't.

A very tiny bone in my wrist, like the one pictured above, is causing me some difficulty more than a year after its initial injury. I'd love to blame old age on what is, essentially, my own stupidity. On most days, I don't mind the ache. It's cool to have a reminder of old friends and boisterous evenings rambling through downtown bars. But lately, as I entered the every-other-day climbing schedule, my wrist has been a pain in my ass.

It seems I didn't wear the cast or the brace long enough way back when, so my doc tells me this thing is gonna cause me "trouble from time to time." That time came yesterday when my wrist decided, halfway through a 5.6 ascent I've done many times before, that it just didn't feel like doing anything anymore. Better still, I had been so focused on managing the ache I forgot about the condition of the flesh covering bone. After I'd been lowered and had taken my place on the bench, I looked down and noticed two rather deep blisters.

Apparently, my enthusiasm for P'UP is a bit beyond my physical reality. Don't get me wrong: This too is part of learning to climb. Though many weekend athletes my age would just don a brace and keep going in denial of both age and wear, I'm more of a realist. I believe my body is a great communicator. It tells me, through cravings, when I need to eat more vegetables and proteins. It also lets me know when I'm tired (first sign: Intermittent babbling and really old jokes). So this ache in my wrist, I think, is my body's way of letting me know it's okay to take a few days off.

Walking from the health center to a local pub to meet friends, I thought about hands and the stories they can tell. I've always been intrigued by hands, focused on them when meeting new people, to see how they're shaped, how they gesture (or don't), and the ways people adorn their hands with jewelry. My favorites have always told stories of the work they do, or gesture wildly and with enthusiasm. But I've also watched the deliberate, still hands of quiet, thinking men as they've reached for a pint or a pen and found them captivating.

I remember every hand that ever hurt me. I remember every hand that ever held my own. I was thinking about this as I stepped onto a sidewalk wet with fall rain and shining with the night. Neon signs reflected the path I walked. Looking down and thinking about my own hands and their stories of writer, painter, mother, cook, and poet I noticed a small, dull triangle floating on a puddle. Stooping to pick it up, I noticed a hint of metallic gold at its center.

In the middle of blue and black marbled plastic were the imprinted words, "Fender Thin." Someone had dropped this guitar pick, and I pondered those hands I had never met. I stashed the pick in my pocket and plodded on, head full of words, perhaps the beginning of a poem, musing night and its wanderers.

Half a block later, I noticed a shiny silver trinket on the sidewalk outside the Rococo Theatre. It was a charm bracelet, the sort of silver Celtic symbol sensitive indie types wear - I've seen them around the wrists of lanky young men with horn-rimmed glasses at the Coffee House - you know, the kind of guys who get tattoos in Sanskrit to prove they're deep thinkers. I looked up and down the street to see if the owner could be nearby. There was no one but me walking about in the rain, so I pocketed the bracelet and let it click and tick in my pocket with that Fender pick.

At the pub, I sat down with friends. When my pint arrived, I held it just to let the chill sink into my flesh. Looking at my right hand, its blisters, and focusing on my wrist, I decided I liked the story my hands were telling. Six weeks ago, I didn't think I'd be sitting around with hands, raw from climbing. I didn't think I'd manage a full ascent before December, let alone "red point." And though I miss, on occasion, my once-delicate, manicured fingers, I doubt I'll ever go back to the file and paint, the feminine ritual of glossing my fingertips.

(Photo: Pre-P'UP hands)

Okay, so for now they're pansy hands, just learning to handle the wear-and-tear of a dream. But someday, my hands are going to tell an epic tale of ascension and discovery. They will testify to the power of rock and will. In the meantime, they'll heal. Tomorrow, I'm baking my contribution to a Halloween celebration. It's the first costume party I've been to in at least ten years. I spent two weeks putting my costume together, and I'm ready to step on out and have a good time. I don't think I would have dared to disco in costume before P'UP, but something I can't quite name is changing inside me.

I can't decide if it's self-confidence or a truce. I can't call it peace of mind, even as it comforts, because it sets my mind aflame with implications and consequences. I've spent a lifetime "stalling for sometime," holding myself back, thwarting my own potential in my personal life. In my working life, I've done quite the opposite but even success can be a hiding place. Maybe I'm just bursting forth from my own long winter. Maybe my soul cried out into the Karmic universe and heard nothing but the silent truth that it was time.

I don't really know. But sitting here, looking at a bracelet and a pick now on my desk, thinking about hands, I've decided I can hold my own. Over the next few days, as my body recovers, I'll think about that 5.7 route. Even as I gyrate to bad '90s pop and suck down "Spooky Punch" at a party, I'll be thinking about Sunday's climbing hope. And really, looking down at my typing hands now, maybe that's what P'UP is all about: hope, the sort of thing born from a challenge that has become far more personal than I ever thought it would.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


(Photo: Steph and Caitlin discuss matters of social importance)

Until recently, I've been a lone soul. Though I hold my own in large social groups, deep down, I've never preferred that chaos to the one-on-one visits with friends. Climbing has brought more people in my life than I can count, and the sense of community has been both immediate and refreshing. My academic life has been somewhat isolating, and over the years I've spent a fair amount of cash making exodus-style road trips to Boulder to visit friends there. Between those visits, however, have been long stretches of lonely hours, shoulders bent, nose stuck in books.

(Photo: The bench fills up on Climbing Club nights)

This evening, I attended my first "climbing club" night, a two-hour climbing social with a trip to our favorite pizza and beer bar afterward. I "red pointed" for the first time, climbing clean and without beta, that "Flip-Flop Climb" route I didn't quite finish on Sunday. Having laid waste to the 5.6 routes, I'll be taking on a 5.7 corner route on Thursday. Our club refers to a "red point" climb for both lead and non-lead climbs, so don't be too impressed. I wasn't lead climbing (today).

(Photo: Ryann gets her nerd on while Papa Al eats pizza)

I also used my new harness and loved getting home without the usual bruises across my thighs the Rec's harnesses have given me. I'm discovering it's the little things, like decent padding and a good fit, that matter. Yesterday, to celebrate my Sunday success, I bought myself a charming medium chalk bag - a welcome replacement for the too-deep "I.V. bag" style that came with my harness package. Just a six weeks into this experiment and I'm becoming a "gear ho" - spending far too much time cruising the Internet for steals and deals. I've just broken in my pair of La Sportiva Nago shoes, and I'm already checking out the end of season bargains, like the Evolve closeouts. A host of hikers and climbers are on sale, even the aggressive Talons are on sale for $49, a significant bargain considering the shoes retailed for $125 earlier this year.

(Photo: Doug and Steph listen to climbing tales)

I'm not buying, though. Not this time around. When I start hookin' my heels, though, I might find just the right incentive for another expenditure (who needs groceries anyway?). Just this week I've had to replace my climbing pants. The old ones, both a pair of yoga stretch capri leggings and a pair of "boyfriend" jeans I dearly loved are now too big. I've lost a full dress size in just the last three weeks, something I didn't anticipate. In fact, when I walked into the store and found myself purchasing a regular size large instead of a plus size, I was rather shocked (however pleased). I haven't bought clothing from the regular women's department in more than ten years.

(Photo: Caitlin and Steven anchor the table)

I'd tout my weight loss numbers, but that's a violation of the Project Up goal. Ultimately, this project is about relearning body image and respect through activity and nutrition. It's not a diet or even a weight loss-centered effort. P'UP is an attempt to consider an new lifestyle and attitude. Whatever weight loss I have is a byproduct, not the focus, of this fun. So I don't bother to step on the scale. I figure the fit of my clothes will tell me everything I need to know.

Thanks to my climbing partner, Ryann, I was able to develop fingerboard skills my climbing daughter didn't know about. So on top of "smokin'" her boyfriend on the wall, I got to show her that her old mother had a few tricks up her sleeve. I think it's important to keep your teenagers on their toes.

"How in the hell did you learn about this when I didn't even know about it?" she demanded, hanging from the top of the fingerboard.

"What can I say?" I said, "When I couldn't get up, I learned to hang. I bouldered. Whatever I could do, I did."



Ah, our mother-and-child bond is a loving one.

I then showed her how to do a hanging ab workout, and earned her (begrudging) respect. She couldn't say so, of course. The surest way to gage your impact on a teenage daughter: If you do something and she goes silent, you know you've rocked her world. After her boyfriend reclaimed his dignity by doing 15 pull ups from the fingerboard, they left and I shambled after the Climbing Club gang for a slice of pizza and a couple of pints.

(Photo: The gang unwinds with pizza and beer at Yia-Yia's)

Steph and I celebrated my red point route with a Guinness, talked shop, and shared stories. Jamie, an experienced climber I admire, tore up her hands on a 5.8. She showed me the blisters and open wounds, grinning. Pain is a funny thing among this group - we seem to celebrate our owies. It reminds me of my years as a competitive softball player, when bruises and scrapes were proof I had delivered. Now, as I wince holding my morning cup of coffee or slip into nirvana when holding a glass of ice water, I feel connected to all my climbing friends through the common bond of tender callouses.

And those stiff shoulders in the morning? The stiff forearms and aching wrists? Braggin' rights, baby.

Watching the club gang at Yia-Yia's, I realized how fortunate I was to fall into such a fine group of people. They're positive, affirming souls, the kind who help you celebrate both your small and big victories. They offer encouragement and advice, support and reminders that we're all learning to do this thing we call climbing. Never in my life have I met so many good people at once. Meeting such beautiful people has been an unexpected gift, and I doubt I'll ever feel the way I did last week. My biggest lesson this week, it turns out, was a focused examination of Self and Community. And all I had to do to make this progress was to shed my perspective, the limiting lens, and reach out to others.

I don't even know why it had once been so difficult. I only know that I am happier now than I've been in a long, long time.

Some of the women discussed a winter tour of indoor climbing gyms, a four-day weekend trip that would take us from Iowa to Missouri, then to Kansas City, and back to Lincoln. We're planning an "All Ladies" climbing night in November, and doing all we can to help our favorite femme fatale, Steph, keep her mind off of her pending vet school applications. This sense of community investment in each others' lives wasn't something I expected when I started this project. What I thought was a personal inquiry is fast becoming a community experience. This is pretty magical to me, and I'm grateful for this time with these people.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


(PHOTO: Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris)

I think it was G.I. Joe who said, "Knowing is half the battle." My epiphany, the connection between failure at the wall and failure in my relationships, that I earned Friday was an important self-discovery. Climbing does keep me anchored to my promises, and in the last month I've learned more about myself through climbing than I have through my usual existential navel-gazing. Rock, even simulated rock, can be a mirror.

As I promised myself, I returned this evening to face down the route that vexed me so on Friday. When I arrived at the Rec, there were other routes added to the comps, another 5.6 and a 5.7 in the corner, that beckoned. Knowing the exact name of my perceived or constructed failure, that fear list, empowered me to approach my work differently. Adam, a wiry writing bloke we've nicknamed Jamochamiah, offered to belay. We talked first about my discovery and the nature of the head game in climbing. I headed up the new 5.6, getting within a foot of the top before my hands and elbows began to shake uncontrollably.

I could have pushed it to the top, but I know that I have to guard my joints. I think it's better to err on the side of caution than to push too hard - I'm new and don't want an injury with a lengthy recovery time to impede Project Up. So I came on down, hands shaking, wrists pulsing, feeling the dull ache in the wrist I broke last year, and grinning like a village idiot.

While I rested my hands, I talked with Jamochamiah about bouldering routes. Before the month is over, I will set one and stamp it with the E.F.R. seal of approval. Thinking about this goal, I worked the bouldering area of the wall, contemplated how I would balance challenge with encouragement. I hope to set a route that tests while it affirms so that at the end, one call feel good about the workout, but also encouraged to keep going.

After a rest and a chat about a possible Dolly Parton Project Part II (I have issues, I know, with letting go), I returned to The Route that I couldn't get on Friday. Let me be clear: It wasn't the route that broke my spirit. I chose to be broken in that moment of challenge. In the aftermath, I learned a great deal about myself. So what seemed like a nemesis on Friday was on Sunday sort of like an old friend. This shift in thinking got me on the route and up. I found the burst I needed to launch. I found the hold exactly where it had always been.

And though I didn't finish the entire route today (it was five minutes before closing time, so out of courtesy I stopped), I know I will before the end of the week. Knowing is half the battle, and I am making my way.

Thinking about the issues of belonging, those insecurities I couldn't shake on Friday, I volunteered to help Galveston and Jamochamiah clean up the wall. I learned how to take down the ropes, anchor in the lines that would be used to raise those ropes tomorrow (and a whole other kind of knot!). I checked a rope and wound it, just as I was shown, around my knees before tying it up. Doing this simple work while making small talk with Jamochamiah about minor mishaps within interpersonal relationships, helped me to reclaim and affirm my sense of belonging to the climbing community.

The eyes see through the lens of the heart. Knowing and naming my real fears changed the lens from a fractured view to a more beautiful vision. As I left the gym and walked into a crisp October night, I was proud of myself. The climbing had gone well, but better still, I had come back to myself.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I had been looking forward to climbing all day. With the recent UP triumph, I was feeling more relaxed at the wall. I felt as if I belonged there. It's not easy to show up every training day, ready to work, without hearing the nagging voice of failure. When I am intimidated by the routes, when I feel old and out of shape, my inner critic taunts me. Deep down, I'm embarrassed to have let myself "go" as they say, and as an older student, I've always felt uncomfortable on campus. I learned long ago that this discomfort was a coping strategy of dysfunctional sort, an obstacle I put in my own way to isolate me from hope. Beating the odds, going to college later in life, striking out on one's own, and daring to imagine a different path, isn't easy. And it seems that when I'm at the wall, all of my insecurities come with me.

When I reached the top of "C'est Facile," I felt as if I had finally staked a claim on myself. I had conquered my inner critic. What I've learned just a few days later, however, is that I won the battle, not the war.

I went to work today, learned I had been hired for a position I had applied for a few weeks ago, and found a thank you card in my mailbox from Ryann, my climbing partner. Later in the afternoon, I went to the No Name Reading Series and heard some great work by colleagues. It was a fantastic fall afternoon. The sun had finally come out from under the blanket of gray we've endured all week. All the trees were aflame with fall color. The air was crisp as I walked from downtown to our rec center. Climbing had been on my mind all week, and I was determined to give that Dolly Parton Project my best effort.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the wall, I noticed how stark it had become. There was a climbing competition there yesterday, so all the familiar routes were gone, including my beloved DPP. Disappointed and startled to be beginning all over again, I donned my shoes and harness. I figured I'd just do the easiest route labeled "one" and call it a day.

My climbing daughter, Laura, had met me there. I watched her cover three routes in short order. Encouraged, I roped up and stood before the first route. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't get on the damn thing, let alone climb it. It began with the sort of dyno move I'm still trying to master. Though I could see exactly where my hand should go once my rocket legs propelled me upward, my arms failed me - over and over again. A climbing staffer I hadn't met before stood too close as I worked it. He hovered. I felt cold there in his figurative shadow.

When I looked at him, I told him I could do it.

"I just want to make sure you don't get hurt," he said, concerned the way young people are when old people try new things. He wasn't condescending, just sincere and dutiful. This made me feel worse, and I found myself feeling insecure all over again. My inner child wanted to yell, "I can do it myself!"

Well, my outer adult wanted to yell, too.

"She's all right, she's been here a lot," another staffer said. He smiled awkwardly then shuffled away. As I huffed and puffed, I could feel my daughter's frustration. "You can do this," she said.

And the thing is, deep down, I knew I could. But my head, that melon so full of ideas and books, wasn't in the game. All the voices of failure rang out in a choral note, and it seemed the harder I tried, the louder it grew. Failure has a crescendo. It didn't help, I suppose, that I was wearing one of the P'UP official t-shirts, the one that says, "I'm poetry in motion, bitches!" on the back. I didn't feel like a poem, but more of a footnote. Small print. The kind of thing you skip over.

"Erica, your t-shirt is hysterical today," Emily called out. "You can do it."

I spent fifteen minutes doing that intro move over and over again until my arms burned. I felt embarrassed, too. The only proof I've successfully ascended is on the blog. I wanted my kid to see my improvements. All she saw was my disappointment. The routes themselves lacked the cohesion that allows for Failed Route: Plan B (traversing). Even the ladder leading to the fingerboards was put away, so I couldn't do the sort of training I do when having a bad climbing day. I felt too embarrassed to ask for it, even though I knew someone would have gotten it out for me. It was just that kind of day, when I thought I came to climb, but learned I had really showed up just in time to wrestle my demons instead.

In short, I felt defeated.

"It's okay, Mom," my daughter said. "The energy is bad here today anyway."

I noticed that the old timers were loving the wall and the routes. They had returned to revisit the routes that beat them down during the competition. That, I understood. But as a newbie, I just couldn't find a place for me. New routes will show up next week, when they add to the stark wall as they always do after a competition. All the same, in the moments on the bench when other newbies who started last month said, "There isn't jack up here for people like us," I felt both a kinship and a sense of frustration.

"Well," I said, tossing my chalk bag, ring of life, and buddy basket into my bad, "clearly I'm not ready for a comp. No biggie."

I watched the others climb, noted their approach, and made a promise to get back to the wall on Sunday. I've got a mountain of work to scale at home, papers to grade, papers to write, lessons to plan ... but if I get to my goals by the end of the weekend, I'll return to the wall as I did those first weeks. I'm coming to terms with the fact that climbing is a head game. On a good day, it's the best. On a bad day, it's really bad.

Whenever one tries something new, it's tempting to give in, to walk away, the moment one confronts limitations. And I know climbing, as a sport, is about confronting limitations every climb. But knowing this doesn't make my head clear up, doesn't illuminate my route, or even bolster my muscles. It simply makes me begin again in the sort of humbled way first-born know-it-all children such as myself find really annoying. If that wall could talk, I'm pretty sure it would say, "Neener neener, ya'll don't need yo caribeener! Ya grounded, biatch!"

Yeah, the wall was talkin' shit today. And I took it. As I walked out of the rec and toward my car, I knew I hadn't brought my best to the wall, and that annoyed me all over again. It seems learning to be patient with my own process is part of climbing, too. If climbing didn't matter to me, if I weren't hooked, if I didn't believe I could learn something from this project, I wouldn't have been twisted up.

It's funny to me now. As I write, I'm remembering a concept I read in Dinty Moore's Accidental Buddhist. In order to achieve the mental growth necessary to meditate and achieve wisdom, one must give up all that seems to matter first. Meaning, you have to set aside your own desires because desire is rooted in the Self and not in the spirit. It's not "How bad do you want it?" but "What will you need to give up to grow?" - this is a Zen concept. Riding home at night, streets wet, the air chilled, I decided I didn't want the product - the completed climb - as badly as I wanted to learn to protect my self-respect. I had let voices from the past limit my present, and this was linked to my desire to be more. More of what, I don't rightly know. Just more.

And that's when I realized that there's still a part of me hanging on to fear. And it's not a fear of gravity, oh no. This fear comes in a simple list:

I'm afraid I don't matter.
I'm afraid I'm not loved.
I'm afraid I'll never be loved.

Seems simple enough to type that out, but it's not. When the chips are down and I'm facing obstacles - even those far removed from those deeply felt (however absurd they may seem) concerns - I'm haunted. Sometimes I think my body is a house, full of ghosts rattling the chains I use to hold myself down, to undermine and sabotage my efforts. I once thought that if I loved fully, if I loved others (platonically or not), love would be returned. Though I don't regret loving as fiercely and deeply as I do (and did), I have noticed that I forget to pour that love into myself, too. Instead, I assumed it would be someone else that did that pouring, someone else who could shore up my cracked veneer.

As Toni Morrison writes in Beloved, "Thin love ain't no love at all." Sitting at a my computer now, thinking, wondering, I've decided I have been giving myself nothing but thin love, and that was just one reason for this project.

Here, I've committed to a year of self-exploration through climbing, yet when I was handed the karmic opportunity to do just that, I resisted. I made it about the physical failure instead of the mental or spiritual growth. I forgot, even as I labored, that I was climbing, or attempting to climb, to fulfill a promise to myself.

Ah, I love writing as inquiry ... writing to learn. So here I am, finally able to write this: Climbing keeps you anchored to your promises. That is its beauty and its difficulty. Maybe I should put that on a t-shirt.


Healthy eating doesn't mean you can't have the occasional treat. I'm finding that the treats themselves are better when packed with nutritionally rich additions, such as whole wheat flour and pumpkin, or sunflower seeds and oats. Moderation is key, of course. Both of these recipes freeze well, too.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Seriously, this is the best pumpkin muffin recipe I have in my epicurean arsenal...

1 and 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
2 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup canned pumpkin or 1 cup fresh cooked (and cooled) mashed pumpkin
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup chocolate chips

Melt butter in the microwave, set aside to cool. Line muffin pans with 12 foil baking cups. Combine four, sugar, spices, soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Stir well. In another bowl, mix butter and pumpkin together, then add the eggs. Mix well. Add chocolate chips to the pumpkin mixture, stir to combine. Pour wet ingredients into the flour mixture, stir just to blend. Don't over blend - the batter should be lumpy. If you over mix quick breads, the gluten in the flour will lengthen and create chewy muffins. You don't want that! Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until the muffins, when pressed, spring back at the touch. These are great warm, but the spice flavor improves the second and third days (if they last that long).


1 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons almond OR vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups quick or old fashioned oats
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 cup white chocolate chips (optional)

In a medium bowl, combine flour, soda, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. Cream together sugars and butter, add extract and eggs. Beat until fluffy. Add flour mixture and blend well. Use a spoon to fold in oats, seeds, and coconut (and those chips if you're using them). Drop dough from teaspoons onto baking sheets. Bake 12 minutes in a 350 degree oven.


I prefer to eat these vegetable dishes as entrees instead of sides, but my kid likes them as side dishes to chicken or pork.


This recipe can be doubled nicely.

One large acorn squash, cut in half, seeds scooped out
Two teaspoons butter
Salt and pepper

Place squash, cut side down, into a shallow, greased (cooking spray or very light coating of vegetable oil) pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Turn squash over, put one teaspoon of butter into each half, sprinkle with cinnamon, and return to oven.

Couscous Stuffing

I cup apple juice
1 cup couscous
1/4 cup chopped dried pitted prunes
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup apple juice concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup toasted pecans (optional)

While the squash roasts in the oven, bring apple juice to a boil. Remove from heat, add couscous. Let sit fifteen minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork. Stir in dried fruits, spices, syrup, juice concentrate, salt, and pecans. When squash is fork tender, spoon about 3/4 cup of couscous mixture into the center of each squash half. Refrigerate remaining stuffing - it's a hearty breakfast and warms in about a minute in the microwave.


(Yeah, I know the exposure on this photo sucks, but it was the only potato photo I have.)

3 regular sized russet baking potatoes, washed, dried and pierced
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup Italian Cheese blend (sold shredded in packages in the market)

Put potatoes in the microwave. Cook on high for four minutes. Turn over, cook an additional four minutes. Potatoes are done when an inserted fork can easily reach the center. If your potatoes are still firm, cook in 2-minute intervals until tender. Remove from microwave.

Melt butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and stir. Cook for one minute before adding garlic. Saute until mushrooms have softened and darkened in color. Set aside.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the potato pulp and place the pulp into a large bowl. Set the potato "skin" boats in a shallow baking dish. Once you've scooped the potatoes out, add the sour cream and salt. Mash with a masher or a hand mixer until fluffy. Add green onions and the contents of your saute pan - all those lovely mushrooms - and the cheese. Stir to blend. Fill each potato skin with the potato mixture. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until the tops of the potatoes start to brown. Makes six side servings or three main dish servings.


As promised, here are two more of the fall feast recipes ...


Two thick-cut (1 inch) pork chops
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
1/2 purple onion, sliced
1/2 granny smith apple, cored and sliced
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon vegetable oil (do not use olive oil)
Salt and pepper to taste

The secret to tender and moist pork chops isn't found in flour dredge. Instead, a good roasted pork cut relies on a pan sear prior to baking. In a large fry pan, drizzle the oil and turn the heat to medium high. Do not season the chops with salt and pepper. Make sure the chops have been patted dry with a paper towel before placing them in the pan. Let them sizzle and sear for three to five minutes, or until the seared side is a golden brown. Turn chops with a spatula (don't pierce meat with forks while you sear them - you defeat your sealing purposes). Cook until the chops have a golden "crust." Place chops in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce on each chop. Use a brush or the back of a spoon to distribute the sauce evenly. Arrange garlic slices atop the chops, then onion and apple slices. Top each with a sprig of rosemary. Salt and pepper to taste. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 -30 minutes. Makes two servings.


Three Fuji, Jonathan, or Gala apples, cored, peeled, and sliced into 1/2 inch wide wedges
Two Granny Smith apples, cored, (do not peel), and sliced into 1/2 inch wide wedges
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons butter (optional)

Place sliced apples into a 1 and 1/2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle sugar and spices atop, then toss ingredients together. If you want a natural juice baked apple, cover with foil or baking dish lid and bake for 30 minutes. If you want a silkier, smoother baked apple, slice butter into pats and place atop the apples, cover apples and bake 15 minutes then uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes (or until apples are fork tender, on the verge of mushy). These apples go well with the rosemary garlic chops - the sweet of the apple brings out the savory notes of the rosemary and garlic. Makes five to six small or four generous servings.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


(Photo: E.F.R.'s Fennel and Orange Salad, Baked Apples and Rosemary Pork Chops, Fennel and Garbanzo Stew, Acorn Squash with Couscous Stuffing, Twice Baked Potatoes with Mushrooms, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins, and Sunflower Seed Cookies)

It's been raining here in Lincoln, Nebraska so I thought this gloomy gray Thursday was perfect for cooking up a storm. I've cooked enough food for nearly a week, using my day off to help me make better choices when I'm working. I've also been experimenting with a vegetable I've avoided my entire life until this week: fennel.

Fennel is a bulb with a delicate anise flavor, like an extremely mild black licorice. It's crunchy like celery, but doesn't have the salty aftertaste. Fennel can be cooked or eaten raw. Today, I experimented with both a cooked and uncooked fennel recipe. I have to say, the results were pretty spectacular (if I do say so for myself).

This week, I took advantage of seasonal sales on specific vegetables and fruits, particularly fennel, apples and gourds. This time of year, squash and pumpkin are on sale, and the specials on apples have been awesome. I've also been thinking more about foods like couscous and dried fruits, most notably apricots and prunes (the latter gets a bad rap, I'm afraid, largely due to grandparental fondness for regularity).

This time of year, pork is also on sale. The chops I used in my recipe were a thrifty $1.49 a pound. To get that deal, however, I had to buy ten pounds of chops. Today I cooked two chops and put the rest in the freezer. I've also been scanning the bulk food bins at my local grocery store and have discovered dried fruits, nuts, and dried items such as bran, flax seed, and granola are cheaper that package goods. Bulk buying also reduces waste, and many stores will allow you to use reusable bags or containers of your own, so long as you print the proper labels from their scales.

Learning to shop for seasonal deals will help to lower your grocery bill while increasing your culinary repetoire. As the holidays near, turkey and fish will go on sale - so I'll experiment with both in November. The fennel recipes are featured in this post, the others will follow in the days to come.


1 1/2 cups dried garbanzo beans
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3 cloves garlic - minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/4 pounds roma tomatoes - chopped
2 tablespoons dried basil leaves (or 2/3 cup fresh basil, sliced into thin strips)
1 large or two small fennel bulbs, trimmed and chopped
1 1/2 medium purple onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh shelled or frozen peas

The night before: Rinse garbanzo beans and place in a medium bowl. Cover with water and let stand overnight or all day while you're at work.

Once the beans are soaked, drain and place in a 4 or 5 quart pan. Cover with stock. Add 2 of the three cloves of minced garlic and the red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil. Cook 45 minutes or until beans are tender. Once the beans are done, reduce heat to a slow simmer. Add chopped fennel and onions.

In a separate pan: Drizzle oil onto the pan surface and add tomatoes and basil. Stir. Add garlic (don't add it first - it burns quickly). Sautee until fresh basil wilts, or if using dried, until you can smell the flavors blending together - about five minutes. Add tomato mixture to the pot of beans. Add more stock if it needed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for twenty more minutes, then remove from heat. Add peas, then cover the pan. Let stand five to ten minutes.

Makes four to six servings.


Four cups of mixed greens, including raddichio, spinach, and green leaf lettuce
2 navel oranges
1/8 c. olive oil
salt and pepper
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 medium purple onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup sliced raw almonds (optional)

Slice away the peel of one orange, taking care to remove the white inner rind. Halve the orange, then slice across the segments into 1/4 inch slices. Place in a large bowl with the fennel, purple onion, and cranberries. Cut the other orange in half. Squeeze the juice from the first half of the orange into a small bowl. Set aside. Cut away the rind from the other half, slice as you did with the first orange, and add to the bowl with the fennel. Salt and pepper the vegetables to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk olive oil together with the orange juice. There's no need to add vinegar or sugar - leave the natural flavors as they are. Drizzle the dressing over the orange and fennel mixture, then toss. Let it stand for about ten to fifteen minutes to let the flavors "meld." On each serving plate, place one cup of mixed greens. Top with 1/4 of the fennel and orange mixture. Sprinkle with almonds. Serve.

Makes four servings.

Monday, October 19, 2009


"C'est Facile." from Erica Rogers on Vimeo.

This 5.6 route was set by Mike M. at the UNL Rec Center. "C'est Facile" is, I'll admit, correctly advertised. But that's not really the point: I have made it UP. Though I'm pleased with this victory so early in P'UP, I know the real work has just begun. The Dolly Parton Project climb still waits, and I can see I have a long way to go before I'm ready to head outdoors.

My non-climbing daughter is an artist and filmmaker. This weekend, she came down from Milwaukee to shop for her wedding dress and hang out with me. We found a dress - it's gorgeous - then we went thrifting. I'm now the proud owner of two goldenrod circa 1960s lounge chairs, two lamps, and an end table. All cost me a whopping $16. After shopping and getting our hair done, we shuffled off to the Rec. Christina was intrigued with P'UP, and decided she wanted to try her hand at climbing, too.

What we discovered is this: Gravity sucks. She's going to try again her next visit.

After a few efforts, she sat with my camera and shot some video of my second ascent. My climb isn't pretty, but it's a climb. I'll take it. The film credit goes entirely to Christina - she sat at my computer and whipped this thing together today (and made it all seem so easy). Had I tried, well, we'd still be waiting for the ending credits.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I'm pleased to announce: Twenty-one days into P'UP I topped my first route!

On Friday, I headed to the wall without my climbing partner, Ryann. She was in a shooting tourney in New York. I had spent the day working on an application for a position in my department, and meeting with students who had spent their conference time with me expressing versions of "... but English was supposed to be my easy class."

It was a long, grueling day - the kind that gives you cranky pants and a sardonic smirk. I grabbed my gear and headed to the Rec. When I got there, Kim and Tiffany, both staffers were chillin'. It was the first day of fall break, so I had the place to myself.

The Dolly Parton Project, the route I've been killing myself over for the past three weeks, stumps me every time at the crag. My mind goes numb, then my arms, and I can't quite get over it (or myself). After falling on the second attempt, I descended, frustrated. "Dolly Parton, you're a big boobed blonde and your music sucks," I fumed. I untied my "danish with cheese."

"Oh screw it," I said. "I'll try the other 5.6."

Tiffany, my belay, supported the change and reminded me I was there to have fun.

"Oh yeah," I said, "I forgot that part. Fun. Yay. Let's have some, dammit."

I tied in and Tiffany offered great beta as I reached past the bouldering line. And before I knew it, I had ascended the route, knocked on the pipe at the top, and shimmied on down with a big, goofy grin on my face.

"You rocked it!" she said, offering her hands up in a double high-five.

As we smacked hands (which, in retrospect, burned like hell), she smiled. "See what practice can do? You're awesome!"

I called Coach Ryann and left her a message. I called my friend Adam and did the same. For a long while, I sat on the bench and just looked up at the route, proud of myself. It amused me, too, that the one time I finally got UP, nobody was there to snap off a photo for the blog.

Those of you who know me already, my affection for the French language and Paris, will not find it too surprising that my first successful ascent was a 5.6 named, "C'est Facile."

That's French for "It's Easy."

I've climbed it clean twice more since, just to prove I could. Dolly Parton, though, she's all about Jesus and Gravity.

Well, I mean, first I say, "Jesus!" and then gravity sorta takes over. Mammary similarities aside, Dolly and I have nothin' in common. It'll be at least another 20 years before I have my own theme park.

So for now, I think I'll just celebrate my French connection and the fact that after all the hard work, doubt, mental ballet, and buckets of sweat, I've done it. I've gotten UP!

Rookie chillin' her hands at Thai Garden after her first full climb (PHOTO: Christina Nichols)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Just for the record, it's been nearly two weeks since my last post because of two things: 1) My climbing partner came down with THE flu, that H1N1 C-3PO, R2D2 kinda ultimate, gonna need The Force to get over it, flu; and 2) My job. It's the time of year when one gets bogged down by administrivia and requirements, grading and conferences, and the general malaise that follows when you don't win the lottery and have to work for a living.

But I'm climbing today, at 4:45 p.m. to be exact. I'll post a follow-up with photos this week.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


The Nebraska women climbers swept "Iowa Climb" today. Expect climber profiles later in the month.

Apart from that, on this chilly Saturday, I haven't much else to report spare:

1. The newly released, digitally remastered Beatles album is amazing.

2. My Wii "Fit Age" is now 29. Suck it, Old Age! That's down from a humbling 41 in just a month. I'll take it. Of course, I know this isn't scientific proof of my youth, but until you're on the other side of 39 you won't understand my glee.

3. My plan to post new squash recipes was squashed last night. Neither recipe turned out all that well. Both were bland, though incredibly healthy. I'll have to try again. In the meanwhile, I'm cooking apples, sweet potatoes, and a pork roast. Those recipes I will post because they're awesome, and after an entire week of vegetable and poultry protein choices, I needed a break. I've been craving steak again, and at this point would willingly take down a steer with my bare hands if one crossed my path.

4. My face is smaller. I had to go back to the optometrist yesterday to get my glasses and prescription sunglasses re-adjusted. Both were sliding off my face. Since I didn't think to measure the circumference of my face at the beginning of this project, I can't report the exact loss. I just know that I've been picturing what it would look like to pose with hats that no longer fit, like those women who pose with gigantic pants extended out to demonstrate how big they used to be.

5. If all goes well tomorrow and I finish reading the assigned, "Civilization and Its Discontents" by Freud in time, I'm heading back to the wall. I'd like to finish my cerebral fall weekend, one spent up to my armpits in legal briefs and court rulings pertaining to First Amendment rights, feeling as though I've accomplished something.

Overall, I'm feeling great about P'UP. I'm meeting new people, holding myself to a project, and enjoying that very much. I'm also preparing for my No Name Reading Series performance at Sur Tango in Lincoln, Nebraska on Oct. 9. I've got some new poetry and an essay to unleash upon the world, and I'm excited about that though I miss my usual editor and co-conspirator who always helped me to prepare my manuscripts. I'm flying solo on this performance, it seems.

I'll leave you with this meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh:

From any point in the cosmos, people can touch us wherever we are and wherever they are. We are not at all confined by time and space. We penetrate everywhere; we are everywhere. Whenever someone touches something with deep mindfulness, deep looking, he or she will touch us.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


"You can enter yoga, or the path of yoga, only when you are totally frustrated with your own mind as it is. If you are still hoping that you can gain something through your mind, yoga is not for you." - Osho

I had planned to join the "beginners" yoga class at our center some time ago, but never quite got there. I snuck into the Hiatha class several times earlier this year, a course for intermediate and advanced students, but felt I was inviting bad karma every time I did. Skulking into the room, mat beneath my arm, and padding across the glossy hardwood floor I felt as if I were slipping into a Kenny G video. Mood lighting, mirrors, New Age music, and men with long hair pulled back into sensitive pony tails ... made me feel as if I were an interloper.

In short, I felt guilty for skipping the beginning class.

So today I asked a fellow climber, Steph, to come to beginners yoga with me. She's an advanced student, but supports Project Up with great enthusiasm. We embarked on this new aspect of P'UP together, slipping into the class like amateur ninjas. Our instructor, Basil (not his real name), informed us of his background as we set up our mats. He explained that he had worked as a professor before taking leave to study at an ashram in Southern California - a militant ashram with a yogi that smacked students with sticks whenever their posture was imperfect.

"I won't hit you," he said, "but I may help you into position."

Not welcoming the contact with Mr. Basil Wheatgrass (still not his real name), I soldiered on anyway. As we worked with "sun salutations," he noted Steph's perfect yoga form. "Oh you don't need this," he said. "You've done this before."

Face to the matt, I muttered to Steph, "Show off," and giggled.

That's when Mr. Basil Berkinstock Wheatgrass III announced, "We have a clown over here."

In retrospect, this should have been my cue to slip out. Unfortunately, we were in planks. Well, Steph was a plank. I was a warped board. After noting her perfect form Mr. B.B. Wheatgrass III told the rest of the class that her grace and form was a matter of Yoga practice, and that we could look forward to someday achieving this perfection.

"It's not like she's a gymnast or something," he said, pacing.

Steph, ever honest, interrupted. "Uh, actually I was."

"Oh barf!" I whispered.

"Oh you were?" he said, "Well, nevermind that then."

After informing us that he had trouble with his own balance postures thanks to a head injury (I guess his yogi beat him about the head and shoulders), B.B. WheatShizzle 3 instructed us into the "downward dog" position. As we remained in this prostrate position, he ordered us to look at our bellybuttons.

I looked, but my pendulous orbs, my National Geographic-esque woman flaps, obscured my view. B.B. Yoga King stood beside me to adjust my position, pushing at my back and my head. I felt as if he were rubbing my downward dog's nose in the matt for having an accident. And then there was the fear of imminent suffocation as my flappage sort of melted toward my face, pouring with a molasses grace and pooling on my chin.

"Remember to keep breathing," he said.

"Okayphmmphh," I replied, muffled by mammary excess.

Just before I lost consciousness, B.B. Yogi Barbaric had us switch into an eagle pose, getting out first taste of human pretzeling while laying on a matt. He then asked us to find a wall for balance to try the difficult posture standing up. Trouble was, there wasn't much wall space left for Steph and I. So we ended up with our butts flat against the glass wall separating "the studio" from the rest of the gym, overlooking the climbing wall.

Ass on glass, Steph formed the perfect eagle. My interpretation looked more like an epileptic, one-winged duck. As we finished our session in the contemplative "corpse" position, lying face up on the floor, arms loose at our sides and palms up, B.B. Gunnery Sgt. Wheatgrass covered our faces with soft white towels. As he hovered above Steph, I heard him say something softly to her. As he hovered above me, I felt his hands grab my shoulders and press them firmly to the floor.

"Shoulders down!" he commanded. As I felt the balls of my shoulders resist him, I suddenly smelled cloves, oranges, and cinnamon. He had dropped "essential oils" on our towels to help us with our meditations. Kinda cool, except I have a mild allergy to clove oil and he had applied it far too liberally. The oil ran from my forehead down my face and pooled on my neck. At first I thought, wow, it's like autumn on my face! But then the familiar burn of clove irritated my skin.

I was a corpse on the floor, smelling like autumn, and pretty much on fire.

Though I appreciated his intentions, and found his approach very interesting, I wasn't so sure I'd be going back to his class. And it's not because Steph is awesome, or because I got labeled "class clown" on my first day of yoga school. He was simply not the instructor for me. I could feel that. Our chakras sort of bunched up in the middle and collided, like a bad karma super conductor.

When going to ashrams and searching for a meditative teacher, many Buddhist monks claim that you will know your teacher when you meet him or her. The sky won't open and a beam of God's wisdom won't rain down on your head. You'll just feel it. I'm going to try the Hiatha class again on Monday, just because I feel that I can. I'm allowed to choose. I liked that instructor. She never pushed me into the floor or gave me chemical burns ... and that has to count for something, right?

At home, as entered the house, my daughter told me I smelled good. "New perfume?" she asked.

"Nope," I replied, "yoga class."

"Wow," she said. "Yoga smells like pie."